Sunday, December 29, 2013

Culinary Science Field Trip!

by CIA student blogger Kristin

Wednesday December 18th marked another one of those moments where I am extremely grateful to be involved with the first class of CIA’s Culinary Science major. This event was a field trip to a local production company in Poughkeepsie titled EFCO. Although this major company exists only 15 minutes away from campus, I had never seen it before. Here is some background information on the company for those of you who (like me) didn’t know otherwise:

-          EFCO was founded in 1903 as a producer of Animal Feed and Flour
Photo courtesy of www.EFCOproducts.com
-          The company has always been family owned and is still a privately held company
-          EFCO is currently the only privately held company in the United States that produces both fillings (such as jams and jellies) and dry mixes
-          They produce for clientele all over the world, their main international business being in Korea
-          Some of their products include bakery fillings, mixes, concentrates, beverage syrups, toppings and other specialty products
-          Although they do not sell any direct retail, EFCO supplies chain restaurants, food processors, supermarket bakeries, and wholesale bakeries amongst others
-          They are a relatively small company producing 60 -65 million pounds of product per year with only about 75 employees  
-          EFCO works with major companies such as Dunkin' Donuts and Chick-fil-A

To begin our tour, we met with a representative from the research and development team at EFCO, Matt Plaza, who is himself a graduate of the CIA. He has been working for this company for some time now and was able to give us great insight on what it means to be an alumnus of The Culinary working at a small production company. He greeted us in a plain looking room adorned with chairs around the outside walls and one table containing colorful samples in the middle. After our history lesson on the company, we were invited to try the different spreads and fillings. These included classics such as Bavarian Kreme and Blueberry Jelly to more adventurous products such as a chunky Mango Filling and a bright green Kiwi Jelly.

After our tasting, it was time to begin the tour. Unfortunately, because this is a major production company, protocol states that picture taking is not allowed. Because of this, I will have to paint pictures with my words as best as possible!

We began our tour in the facility’s test kitchen and quality assurance lab. The test kitchen looked like the set of a cooking show. The square room was lined with counters and cabinets holding appliances which were all surrounding the middle island. The only thing that set this kitchen apart was some of the high tech equipment being used by EFCO to create small batch recipes. As we passed through quality assurance to continue our tour, we were allowed to ask some of the workers about what they do on a daily basis. Each employee had great insight on the scientific side of creating quality products.

From these relatively small rooms we traveled into the heart of the warehouses. We started in the production room where workers were emptying out boxes of raw ingredients into large vats used to both cook and stir the products. These vats were so huge that the workers had to stand on special platforms to reach their openings. The vats were run by large control boards with buttons labeled for specific ingredients such as sugar, cornstarch, or water. Many of these large vats were connected to pipes that led to adjacent rooms, giving EFCO the ability to easily move product.

Photo courtesy of EFCO Products Inc. Facebook page
at www.facebook.com
We continued from the production of the fillings to the room that held all of the dry ingredient and mixes. Although we were still in the same building, it felt like we had stepped into a different world. The first few rooms we had seen were full of industrial equipment that was constantly creating fillings and jellies that could not necessarily be seen. In the dry mix room however, all of the products were stored in plain sight on high rising shelving units along the walls of the warehouse. Within the storehouse, we were invited to climb up a long ladder leading to loft overlooking all of the dry ingredients. On this loft sat a large mixing tank, connected to dry ingredient silos outside, that automatically mixed together the right ratios of dry ingredients for the mixes.

After we had seen both sides of production, it was time to go downstairs and witness the packaging that EFCO performs. Out of the entire tour, this was the part that I was most impressed with and surprised by.  Entering onto the production floor was like entering a different world. It almost felt like we had stepped into Willy Wonka’s factory. Many different machines were moving products from one side of the room to the next with the greatest of ease. No corner of this basement packaging plant was left unused. As far as the eye could see boxes were spiraling, zig-zagging and scooting towards their final destinations. In a matter of seconds what was merely individual product was sorted, labeled, counted, packaged and stacked to be shipped out to clients all over the world. The amazement at this room alone made me wonder what the guts of an even larger packaging company must look like.

The last step on our tour was to view the warehouse where packaged product is stored before being shipped. We crossed the street to a simple looking warehouse reminiscent of an airplane hangar. Upon walking in, we were immediately hit with the splendor of the warehouse. It was huge and extremely organized with shelving units up to the ceiling filled with boxes and barrels of product. We even got to witness a palette of boxes get wrapped for shipment with a “plastic wrap robot”. This invention may seem obscure to some but for those of you who have wrapped a speed rack with plastic in your life, you’d be impressed by this machine!


At the end of the tour, we were invited to ask any lingering questions and of course encouraged to keep in touch in the future. I am looking forward to a potential second visit to the company’s headquarters and for developing the CIA’s relationship with EFCO in the future! 

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